I once had a person comment on our family YouTube channel about how it was wrong of me to advise beginners can use cheap watercolor paints initially for practice. The person actually raised excellent points. I agreed wholeheartedly because as a watercolor newbie myself, I had a hard time transitioning from watercolor cakes to artist grade paints because the techniques and water-color ratios are just different. With watercolor cakes, you’d need to work harder to get the effects you want while it’s such a joy to work with artist-grade paints for a number of reasons most watercolorists would know. Here’s a video of JC Vargas, my teacher for portrait painting, where he shared his time-lapse video painting using cheap watercolor papers and watercolor cakes for his painting:
Have you finished watching the video above? JC is already well-known in the art scene because of his beautiful artworks and he made it possible to paint with watercolor cakes in the video. So yes, using watercolor cakes to paint beautiful artworks can be done. When one of my classmates at JC’s portrait painting class asked about his experience painting with the cheap watercolor cakes and nylon brush, he said that it took a lot of effort to finish the painting especially since he’s used to working with artist-grade paints and brush. It was hard to get the effect he wanted. If you won’t take my word for it, take his, he’s a veteran.
I told my commenter that it is indeed so much better to work with artist-grade paints from the start. However, for an average Filipino student, artist-grade paints are cost-prohibitive. I also don’t see why a Filipino student who has limited resource should be limited in exploring art due to the cost when art can be made with whatever’s readily available. I’ve seen nice artworks done by people using just regular crayons and pen. I’ve also had parents of my students in free watercolor painting sessions ask where to get affordable art materials. I did insist that they get the best one until one of them mentioned that the reason they chose to homeschool was due to financial constraints.
I have been painting using watercolors since 2020, about the time when the pandemic was taking a toll on my mental health. I used my kids’ watercolor cakes (Simbalion brand) to get a feel of how watercolor worked. In just few months, I transitioned to student-grade watercolors (mid-range like Prang) then eventually moved on to artist grade ones. I was able to try them all!
I started with oslo paper but it was a disaster so I tried 200 GSM cellulose and potentate papers, then eventually, upgraded to Arches and Baohong cotton papers (300 GSM). I have also used nylon brushes that come in packs of 10 priced at less than 200 pesos per pack (around 4 USD). I upgraded to synthetic sable ones per recommendation by my teachers in art once I started enrolling in formal classes. I also thank my clients for buying my handmade resin projects and DIYs, I was able to use the earnings to upgrade my art materials.
Per my experience, I can say that while artist-grade materials are the best ones to work on and with. However, I need to point out that tight budget shouldn’t stop beginners in exploring this wonderful medium since there are affordable art materials out there. With this in mind, I have listed down art materials that are good for starters but won’t break the bank and where you can possibly get them in the Philippines.
When it comes to watercolor papers – the most preferred ones by my artist friends are 100% cotton with at least 300 GSM weight. These papers can hold so much water without buckling or tearing apart (hello, oslo!). Arches paper is a favorite among my watercolorist because they are of archival quality the surface is perfect for adding multiple washes. The caveat though is that Arches can be very expensive, from Php 1,300 for the smallest pad to over Php 12,000 per roll. If you’re a watercolor beginner, the price can be steep especially if there’s a chance that you won’t end up liking watercolors at all (unless you really have extra cash to spare). For practice, I highly recommend Baohong brand which is also 100% cotton way cheaper than Arches. The academy-grade of Baohong is only Php 295 per 5×7 inch block which is a great size for on-the-go painting or for practice. For artist-grade Baohong paper, at size 7×10 inch block, the price is Php 795. Both blocks contain 20 sheets and glued on all sides so there’s no need to tape down the paper when painting. Baohong comes in different sizes and types too. I use the academy-grade (student-grade) for practice and the artist-grade for commissioned works. I have used Arches only occasionally because even for me, the price is steep.
Where to get legit Baohong watercolor paper (yes, there are fake ones too): Giftbox, Inc.
If you have Lazada app, visit Giftbox, Inc.’s store and just search Baohong watercolor papers within the shop. Take note of the size you want, the type of paper (academy-grade or artist-grade), and whether you want loose sheets or block. I personally prefer small blocks for practice but I use loose sheets for commissioned works because they come in big sizes (even rolls). I also prefer cold pressed papers for watercolors, hot pressed papers for gouache. Baohong also has “rough” papers but I have yet to try them.
For sketchbook, I’ve tried the cellulose ones by Tokyo Finds and Kuelox brands. You can get Kuelox sketchbook at Giftbox, Inc. as well at Php 295 per piece. Another alternative is potentate paper which is also available in Giftbox, Inc. I have prepared a comparison table for potentate, cotton, and cellulose papers below. Please take note that the statements here are based on my personal experience with these paper. Other artists might have other view when it comes to paper because some would prefer one paper over the other. Take note also that I have not included 200 GSM papers in the comparison table because I don’t use them that much anymore. I do know artists who use papers that thin and still able to produce great paintings. 🙂
|Type of Paper||Pros||Cons||Price Range, PhP|
|Cotton, 300 GSM|
(Brands: Baohong, Arches)
|– comes in large sheets|
– holds water well
– paints can be liftable except for highly staining ones such as cadmium yellow
– comes in cold pressed, hot pressed, and rough
|– can be pricey|
– needs special care and storage conditions (otherwise, expired papers will result to blotchy artworks as I learned the hard way)
|295 to 12, 000 depending on size and brand|
|Cellulose, 300 GSM||– colors are highly liftable|
– great texture for sketching
– great for practice only as this is not archival
|– liftable so you need to really dry between layers otherwise, underlying layer is easily erased or lifted off if still wet|
– does not hold water well compared to cotton
– not archival
– does not come in large sheets
|<Php 100 to 500|
(loose, block, journal)
|– surface is nice for sketching |
– relatively rough surface which is nice when painting painting rocky landscape for example
– cheapest among the papers
|– not archival|
– the rough texture might be off-putting for some
– some of them comes with horizontal grooves (I’m also wondering why)
– does not hold water well
– color’s not as liftable compared to cotton and cellulose so you can’t erase when you make mistakes
– does not come in large sheets
|Php 160-300 per pad or 20 sheets (block, loose, journal)|
The most expensive watercolor brush I have is Silver Black Velvet size 12, round, which I bought through a friend in an art store in Singapore. Converted to Php and including the shipping fee, the price amounts to almost Php 3000. I also have size 6 and dagger brush in size 1/4 inch, same brand. Those three are my most expensive brushes currently and I’m so happy with them. Silver Black Velvet is made of synthetic sable and also the most recommended brush by fellow watercolorists.
Another brush that I like working with but that are not as pricey as Silver Black Velvet are Princeton Neptune series. I have 4 Neptune brushes that I got from my favorite Shopee Store, The Yellow Violet House. When it comes to brushes, my mentors recommend one that hold water well but it still depends on the painting style. Since I like painting wet-on-wet, sable brushes work best for me.
However, if the price point of Princeton Neptune still intimidates you (price range: Php 400 to 2500) then I would recommend you get round brushes by Scrivo which are available at National Bookstores. Another type of brush that you can use are Chinese brushes. While I don’t use Chinese brushes for watercolor, I do use them a lot in gouache painting and based on my experience with gouache so far, I think Chinese brushes will perform similarly with sable brushes (again, that’s just my impression) especially if you are laying creamy consistency of watercolors. You can get Chinese brushes here. I also know one local artist who paints really good floral art and she uses Chinese brushes. The gallery below features my gouache paintings which I painted using Chinese brushes (photo below) and Himi Miya paints. I wrote an article about my journey with gouache here.
Watercolors – are there really affordable ones out there?
And now we go to the most important material you would need to get started – watercolors of course! While I did start this blog with an argument that you can paint with cheap watercolor cakes – I don’t really recommend it for beginners.
Watercolor cakes are full of fillers thus, will result to chalky artwork (it’s not an issue if you prefer it that way). The pigments used are also of poorest quality. If you want to seriously study watercolor painting and practice various techniques, resist the temptation of buying watercolor cakes or worse, fake ones, because these are made up of chalk fillers and poor quality pigments. I am also worried about toxic metals that might be present in cheap paints such as lead. Here is a table where I enlisted some of my recommended brands with low price points and where to get them:
|Watercolor Brand||Price Range (PhP)||Pros||Cons||Where to Buy in PH|
|Prang||250-500||– student grade|
– vivid colors
– works well on potentate, cotton, and cellulose papers
|– not archival|
– some colors are not the same as artist-grade counterpart
– not sure about lightfastedness because there’s no information about it on the packaging
|National Bookstores, Shopee, Lazada, Art Bar|
|White Nights||2, 695||– 24 colors for only Php 2, 695|
– vivid and highly tinted colors
– comes in tubes and pans
|– I’m not sure about its lightfastadness but for practice, these are great paints!||Giftbox, Inc.|
|Van Gogh||1, 499||– 15 colors in half pan (set)|
– vivid colors
– highly tinted and not chalky at all
– comes in pans which can be reactivated with water
– tube versions are also affordable at Php 120 per 10 ml tube at Deovir
– Paul Clark recommends it
– compact so great for travel and painting en plein air
|– I honestly can’t think of one because I love this paint!||Fully Booked (Lazada Flagship Store, physical stores); Deovir Art Store (Quiapo, SM North), Art Bar|
|Winsor and Newton Cotman||1,300||– the price is for 12-color, half-pan set so it’s fairly cheap|
– colors are vivid
– colors are easily activated with water
– compact so great for travel and painting en plein air
– comes with travel brush
|– Not as creamy as I would like my paints to be|
– Lower pigment load compared to artist-grade version so they are not as vivid
|Fully Booked (Lazada Flagship Store, physical stores, iFex Online Shop at Lazada, Art Bar|
If you want some expert advice about watercolor paints, do watch the video above. Paul Clark has taken the time to discuss about artist grade watercolor paints and I’m forever grateful to him because I learned so much just by watching his videos. If I remember correctly, he also mentioned his favorite brand towards the end of this video.
The choice of watercolors, brushes, and papers to use is a matter of preference. I hope that with this article, I was able help you decide which affordable art materials you can invest in as a beginner. I want to end this blog with an encouragement by showing your my early works and how I’ve improved so far.
I went from this: